The US State Department lauded Taiwan's government yesterday for forcing the North Korean freighter Be Gae-hung to unload a batch of controlled chemicals before allowing it to leave Kaohsiung Harbor for North Korea.
State Department Deputy Spokesman Philip Reeker said during a regular press briefing that the chemical, identified as phosphorus pentasulfide, could have been used to make chemical weapons if transported to North Korea.
Customs officials seized 158 barrels of phosphorus pentasulfide from the vessel at Kaoshiung Harbor over the weekend, saying the case is being investigated.
Reeker commended Taiwan's action in efficiently stopping materials from being transported to arms proliferators.
The 6,500-tonne Be Gae-hung arrived in Kaohsiung last Thursday from Bangkok to unload batches of chemical materials, including aluminum powder.
Customs officials asked to inspect the vessel after being informed by US intelligence authorities that the North Korean freighter might be carrying a batch of dangerous chemicals which could be used in the production of nuclear weapons.
The freighter's captain refused the request, forcing them to detain the vessel to conduct a search.
During their search, the officials discovered the 158 barrels of phosphorus pentasulfide, which had been listed by the ship's captain as "commodities in transit."
The officials said their seizure of the chemicals was legitimate, noting that the chemical is listed as a strategic high-tech commodity (SHTC) subject to controls according to international law.
North Korea is listed as an area subject to SHTC controls. The consignee of the chemicals should have applied with the Bureau of Foreign Trade in advance for transit permission through Taiwan, officials said.
The Board of Foreign Trade will discuss the issue with other government agencies to decide how to deal with the chemicals, which is being stored in Kaohsiung Harbor, they said.